British Museum seeks public help in finding stolen artefacts

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(LONDON) — Please return if found: Hundreds of missing artefacts formerly housed in a museum in central London.

The British Museum has issued a plea to the public to assist in the recovery of ancient artefacts reported stolen or missing from its collection.

The museum — which announced on Aug. 16 that the Metropolitan Police were investigating “a number of items” found to be “stolen, missing or damaged” — is now appealing to anyone who may have seen the items to get in touch.

Sixty items have been returned thus far, the museum said in a statement sent to ABC News. Three hundred more are “due to be returned imminently.”

The announcement followed one in August by British Museum Chairman George Osborne, who disclosed that “around 2,000” artefacts had been stolen from the museum’s storerooms by a suspected museum curator.

The scandal, which has been called an “embarrassment” for the institution, triggered the resignation of British Museum Director Hartwig Fischer.

“The trustees of the British Museum were extremely concerned when we learnt earlier this year that items of the collection had been stolen,” said Osborne in a statement. “Our priority is now threefold: first, to recover the stolen items; second, to find out what, if anything, could have been done to stop this; and third, to do whatever it takes, with investment in security and collection records, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

The items the museum is seeking include “gold jewelry, and gems of semi-precious stones and glass” dating back to the 15th century B.C. and the 19th century A.D.

None of the items has recently been on public display, said the museum.

Although the museum is not sharing details of the lost and damaged items following advice from “recovery specialists,” the museum announced that majority of the stolen items are from the Department of Greece and Rome, “mainly falling into the categories of gems and jewelry.”

The museum also announced that some of the items had been placed on the Art Loss Register — the world’s largest private database of stolen art, antiques, and collectables: “This will ensure that if the stolen pieces appear in the over 400,000 items a year that are checked by them, they will be identified,” said the Museum.

Involved too in the search are an international panel of experts, made up “leading specialists” in the field of identification and recovery of stolen items.

Prior to the public appeal, investigations into the missing items had been taking place behind closed doors in partnership with the metropolitan police. In a statement sent to ABC News, the Metropolitan Police confirmed one man had been interviewed on Aug. 23 in relation to the thefts. He was placed “under caution,” having voluntarily attended a police station.

The Metropolitan Police told ABC News enquiries into the missing objects continue.

Many have pointed out the irony of the British Museum — which has come under scrutiny to return artefacts in their possession to their country of origin — seeking public assistance in retrieving stolen artefacts.

In August, the British Museum announced it will return 72 artifacts that were looted in 1897 — including Benin Bronzes — to the Nigerian Government.

The British Museum is also entangled in a debate with Greek authorities over ownership of the famous “Pantheon Sculptures,” which were taken from the Pantheon between 1801 and 1805.

“Sir Nigel Boardman and I continue to work closely with the British Museum, other organizations and specialists in this area to recover stolen items and return them to the British Museum’s collection,” said Lucy D’Orsi, Joint Chair of the Independent Review. “We are very grateful for the support we have received.”

 

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